Playwright Jordan E. Cooper may have been a little too on the nose when he said “this is not a play that’s supposed to be on Broadway,” as “Ain’t No Mo,” Broadway’s recent attempt to virtue signal, announces closing not two weeks after its opening night.
With a star-studded cast of producers (Lee Daniels, Gabrielle Union, RuPaul Charles, and Dwayne Wade, to name a few) and a mostly positive response from theater critics, the play, on paper, should have succeeded. Its content was just too abrasive to ignore.
Cooper’s Broadway debut is an absurd political satire and lamentation of the black American experience. The premise of the 90-minute play is an alternate reality in which the United States government attempts to solve racism by repatriating black Americans back to Africa on the not-so-subtly named Flight No. 1619. Comprised of a series of vignettes, the story follows the descendants of slaves set to board Flight No. 1619 and Cooper in drag as Peaches, the sassy flight attendant coordinating the whole thing. “Ain’t No Mo” depends upon the exploitation of white guilt and condescending pandering to the black community to achieve its desired effect on the audience.
The show opens with a funeral — Pastor Freeman (Marchánt Davis) eulogizes Brother Righttocomplain — and it is explicitly stated that the funeral is the death of black people’s right to complain following the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
One vignette (which would do the ghost of Margaret Sanger proud) attempts to justify black abortion and make fun of black conservatives all in one. A black female Fox News reporter interviews and guilts a black woman who’s waited in line for 40 days to get an abortion because she is fearful for the future of black Americans.
Another vignette stands to shame affluent black people in a scene in which an actor who is supposed to represent “true” blackness pops up from the floorboards and scares the white-washed family during their fancy dinner. Breaking loose from literal shackles, she scares the family by haphazardly parading around the room, hopping up on furniture, and forcing them to recognize their roots. The scene more so sends the message that the well-mannered and successful black person isn’t really black at all, and true blackness is unhinged and animalistic. Yikes.
Other storylines include a Rachel Dolezal-type character and how the law enforcement system strips black people of their joy. One particularly disturbing scene shows a black woman getting lynched on stage. No corner of non-black, non-affluent America is safe from scorn.
While some may argue that discomfort was the intended result of the art piece, it is obviously unsustainable as the show cannot afford to continue to run. Deadline reports only 47 percent of seats were filled, even with tickets on the cheaper side. Before the masses cry racism, let’s look at the reality of producing a Broadway show. Despite the high ticket prices, most Broadway shows struggle to break even due to the sheer cost of production.
Compare this to “The Lion King,” one of Broadway’s longest-running shows. It is a musical with an all-black cast, set in Africa, and celebrates African culture and a classic story. This show has run for decades with minimal advertisements, only a powerful story, and an award-winning score that speaks for itself.
Aside from logistical costs, the average age of Broadway attendees is between 40 and 45 years old, and an estimated 67 percent of theater-goers are Caucasian. What interest does this demographic have in buying a ticket to be reprimanded for the sins of their ancestors?
“I ain’t going down without a fight,” Cooper said on Instagram. “There is an audience for plays like this.”
If there is, they are not traveling to Manhattan to see it. It’s true the cast, crew, and supporters are not going down without a fight. Will and Jada Smith recently bought out a performance of “Ain’t No Mo,” and Cooper started the hashtag #SaveAINTNOMO on social media in an effort to garner support. Unfortunately, hashtags don’t fill seats, and “Ain’t No Mo” is still set to depart the Great White Way on Dec. 18.
Update: After this article was published, Cooper announced the show was granted a one-week extension and will go on through Friday, Dec. 23.